What can we learned from Prey (2017)?


#1

Hi everyone,

as most probably know, Bethesda recently published a System Shock like game, which had been discussed some time ago in the forum.

After taking a closer look, I am wondering what we can learn for the development of SS3. I should note though that I just watched Let’s Plays and didn’t play myself. In the end, I didn’t choose to buy and play it for reasons I’ll detail below.

I think there are several areas where the Prey team did quite a good job, if not to say an outstanding one. These are in my opinion:

1. Immersiveness and realism:

I really like the possibility to interact with almost every object in a very realistic way, e.g., that you can drag complex objects like corpses around and how realistic it is when they fall from a distance. It even appears that the station is actional “drawn to scale”, which becomes apparent when you venture outside into space and move away or towards it. I was also impressed by the bodies and faces of corpses which almost look like real people. Overall it creates a great feeling of immersiveness and of “being there.” Great stuff!

2. Storyline and player’s choices

I generally like the story and especially the “what the hell is going on” moments, e.g. at the beginning. While the general plot elements aren’t entirely new, they still have some originality and are not easily predictable. It’s also interesting to see how player’s choices affect how the story progresses and lead to different endings (e.g. blow up the station vs. send a Nullwave etc.).

3. Voice acting

The voice acting is great and realistic.

4. Neuromods

We had the discussion here about skill points vs. solely technological character progression. The Neuromods (which are actually a kind of skill points) offer a way to introduce character development which is consistent with the Sci-Fi basis of the game. If you can only develop your character via tech you find (e.g. SS1), you have no player choice. Either you find the new targeting system or you don’t. The Neuromods offer a chance for the player to build his own unique character with its own strengths and weaknesses, while still being consistent with the game’s premise. I think that was a good idea in general.

But despite many positives, the game didn’t really convince me to a point where I would want to buy and play it myself.

So what is there not to like?

1. It’s not creepy enough

When I first saw the Typhon, I thought, OMG this is going to be like a horror movie. But the level design doesn’t help to create that feeling. When I played System Shock at night, I often did so with the lights in my room all on, because it was too creepy to play in the dark. I never had a similar feeling with Prey. Compare Prey’s levels with the dark and narrow corridors e.g. in the new System Shock reboot. Huge difference.

2. Combat sucks

There are no exciting weapons, enemies sometimes appear to be unresponsive. It doesn’t feel like combat is any fun at all. That was surprising given what Bethesda can obviously do (e.g. the new Doom).

3. Enemies are boring

The Typhon all look and behave rather similar and the only robots you fight are the “Operators” and the turrets. This is extremely disappointing. Further a well-developed character is invincible. At the end of the game, the enemies aren’t real enemies, they are just getting on your nerves.

4. Absence of a convincing villain

Actually there is not villain at all in the game. The Typhon are clearly “the enemy” but they don’t seem to have the central planning and intelligence to count as a real antagonist. They simply try to kill everyone on board, but they don’t actively “conspire” against the player or act in a concerted way to stop him/her from destroying them in the end. They are passive actors in the plot. Alex turns out to be on your side (somehow), and the station crew is, too. What comes closest to a malign power conspiring against the player is the impostor cook, but it’s only a minor plot element.

Compare that to being scared the whole time what Shodan might cook up next in System Shock.

5. Too many minor plot elements

Take SS1: It had a few big plot elements. Destroy the laser, jettison the groves, destroy the antennas, blow up the station, go to the bridge. Inside those there were minor elements (e.g. the GRAY resistors on the flight deck, exchange the relais, get the engineers head etc.). Prey on the other hand has dozens of minor elements that needed to beat the game. Some of it is cool, but I think it was overdone and sometimes the clear path in the game is missing.

6. Not enough “what the hell” moments

At the beginning after you realize your appartment is a simulation, I thought what the hell is going on? I thought it is going to be like in the 1997 movie “The Game” where you get absolutely confused about what’s real and what’s not and who is behind all of what happens. I expected the game to be totally ambiguous about reality and feeling like being a rat in a maze or in a cat and mouse game etc. Every wall, every room, every person could be an illusion…or not. The game does some of this and has some surprising things happening, but I think they don’t nearly exploit it as much as they could have.

7. Dialog

Dialog with NPCs is a one way street. The player has no choices. It’s just the NPCs sending out. No chance to influence the discussions.

So what does this mean for System Shock 3?

I think System Shock 3 can do much better than Prey. We just have to take a look at the past. For instance, look at the new System Shock reboot to see how creepy a game really can be. Look at the old System Shock or a great variety of weapons and enemies and how they attack the player (+20 years ago!). Look at System Shock 2 for how to make a great and unpredictable story. Look at UW2 how to give the player options for interesting dialog.

Prey is an OK game, but I think they wasted an opportunity to make a really great game. The graphics and realism of Prey is impressive, but I would rather see a game that economizes a bit in this respect and gets the other things right.

When I look at the SS reboot and the team that’s involved here, I am hopeful this is exactly what SS3 is going to be like 8)


#2

The textures of the creatures in Prey hit me as somewhat one-note. I also thought it lacked atmosphere, and I hated constantly switching between the gloo gun and wrench - a melee button would have been welcome. I think with less-vanilla narrative delivery, and better use of atmosphere and light/shadow interplay, it could have been more focused. As it is, it seems to take a lot of ideas from all over the place, but it never really develops into its own brand label. Delivery is off, and it lacks a compelling villain. On the complimentary angle, I do feel it allowed a lot of interacting mechanics, and that was its main triumph. I like the Truman-show esque plot, but not enough to save it from being a less-compelling System Shock clone.


#3

Eh, one should also look to older games like Shock 2 and Arx in the case of some of your positive points too, e.g:

1. Immersiveness and realism:

Between stronger horror, less handholdey UI elements, deeper simulated object interactivity systems and a generally more engrossing and better designed experience, Shock 2 is way more immersive (potentially more immersive, since immersion is a rather subjective state of mind). Arx Fatalis also, since all of this applies to Arx too, even horror (the Crypt).

Prey is still a decent game though.


#4

It is the information that benefits. And full details.


#5

I think the biggest lesson that can be learned from Prey is to reign in your scope, keep a lean development staff, and as long as budgets are reasonable, an Immersive Sim can still be successful financially in 2018. Because otherwise, as much as i hate to admit it, Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2 and Prey showed us the past few years that if anything, this genre has become more and more niche.

The current generation of gamers has vastly different tastes, grew up on different kinds of games, and doesn’t share the appreciation of Immersive Sims that older generations had. The people who played and loved Shock and Deus Ex back in the day is probably quite older now, has less time to play games. You’re dealing with a very different consumer landscape. So you wind up with a genre that’s more niche, albeit, has a core cult following.

To my knowledge, Prey did okay financially, but it probably had some people worried at Arkane and Bethesda. I hope a middle tier kind of development becomes more prevalent. More reasonable budgets. Not every game has to spend the extra dev time and money to render every blade of grass and every detail on a gun model.

From a gameplay standpoint, i’d very interested in a twofold change:
1- Enhancing the moment to moment gameplay in Shock 3. The biggest gripe i see discussed when talking about Immersive Sims is usually that the actual games are sluggish to play, or don’t handle as well, or the guns don’t feel as well to shoot. I think a larger audience can be reached if Otherside works on making the core shooting/powerups feel good to use on their own.

2- Adding new modes of traversal, a parkour style system in the wake of Dying Light and Dishonored 2, even maybe Titanfall. Backtracking is a large part of System Shock. I think if the movement felt good to do, having a system that allows for wall running, fast traversal of obstacles, powerups to unlock parts of the station you couldn’t previously access, would add a different dimension to the gameplay. If you’re gonna do something for a lot of time, it has to feel good to do, doing it has to be it’s own reward imo.


#6

I think I made a similar point a year-or so ago on the forums and don’t entirely disagree with you.

However! I will say that look at the new Zelda. It arguably borrows a lot of design from what we thought of as immersive sims back in the day… the open world and player agency aspects… and it has been a smash hit.


#7

Starker, your point about LoZ BotW has always struck a chord with me about the game’s success.

I think it’s done exceptionally well for two additional reasons (aside from the fact that it’s already a great game!):

  1. Extremely recognizable brand
  2. One of the newest games on a new console

People would have played the next Zelda installment regardless of whether it was a smash hit or just-average-game because the IP is so strong. (Even a just-average Zelda is pretty fun, so it’s not too low of a bar.) A lot of people were pleasantly surprised by the complete ability to improvise your adventure and huge reign of freedom, and it helps that the Switch can easily upload content onto social media to share videos of said adventures.

A part of me has wondered if Prey would have done phenomenally better if (in some alternate universe) it had been released on a platform like the Switch before PC. I don’t think I’m the only one who bought Prey, but never got around to actually playing it, for one reason or another. Was I blocked by accessibility and the time commitment it would take for me to play the game at home on my computer? Was I bored of playing PC games? Possibly both… but I was still interested in the game itself, and overall I think it had a lot of potential.

Likewise, was Arkane’s company name and resources not enough to pull a new IP up and into the public’s interest?

Some of my personal opinions are mixed in here, but the System Shock 3 team has been looking closely at games like Prey from top to bottom. What would make someone want to pick up SS3 over a game like Prey? We don’t want to rely on “name brand alone,” especially since we encourage players that are new to the System Shock series to give it a try.


#8

I’m speaking as a gamer more than an immersive sim enthusiast here, but games like Prey and Dishonored 2 really didn’t stick out to me (which I understand sounds like sacrilege).

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but a combination of their settings and art styles didn’t pop out to me. I’m sure if I tried them I would enjoy them… but I can’t make the jump.

I think being on the Switch would definitely generate some interest on my part but I don’t know if it would fix my lack of interest entirely.

On a side note DOOM on the Switch looks great… but the 60 dollar price tag for a 30fps version of a game I already have seems a bit unfair. I would bite at a better price definitely or if they threw in the original DOOMs with the game.


#9

I’m not sure this is the right question to ask.

As I implied in the comments about Prey I just left over in the General section (maybe a thread merge would be helpful? not sure), I see Prey and the original System Shocks being considerably more similar to each other – relative to other games – than different from each other. Both are, I think, visibly more about delivering a fun experience of exploring a complex dynamic world than about delivering a sequence of exciting tactical combat engagements.

If that’s accurate, then I don’t think SS3 and Prey are games that gamers choose instead of each other – I think they’re both games that players who enjoy exploration choose instead of games that deliver other kinds of fun.

So I’d suggest that “What does SS3 need to do differently from Prey?” will be less useful for making SS3 great than “What conceptual elements of Prey’s design are good inspirations for SS3?”


#10

He’s a marketing specialist. That’s precisely the type of questions he is to ask! Just don’t let it interfere with design in a negative sense damn it. Game design is so sales-driven these days :frowning:


#11

Both of these points are true! I was thinking of this purely from a marketing standpoint, but of course the ROOT of how we market the game is also the game’s design in itself. The EXPERIENCE that we want to emphasize when pitching the game to people, especially those who are new to the System Shocks, is pretty crucial. In the 6 months I’ve been here at OSE, it’s been startling to me that so few people have heard of System Shock!

There’s a bit of a double-edged sword involved with “making a sequel”/continuing a game in a series, and I wonder what would help newcomers feel less intimidated dropping into the “Third” game in a series, having never played the first two.


#12

Of course, you could give System Shock 3 a nonsequential subtitle and “soft sell” it as a sequel. I’ve always longed for a non-sequential series, like Star Wars is becoming.


#13

The most common question I see in that regard is “do I need to have played the previous games in the series to understand the story of this game”.

Oh damn I’m potentially encouraging sales-driven design here!


#14

Hmm. At what point in the process of forming an impression of SS3 are you thinking?

Do you mean pre-purchase, so that the question is about what features should be emphasized in advertising so that non-SS players can buy it feeling pretty safe that they’ll enjoy playing it?

Or do you mean when actually starting to play SS3, so that the question is more about what features of the game will let non-SS players get over the “What the heck do I do now?” hump? Also, what aspects of playing SS/SS2 are you thinking might intimidate today’s gamers? Coming up to speed on the story (especially “Who is this SHODAN?”), or some of the mechanics?

Not trying to grill you; just thinking we (I, anyway) might be more helpful with a little more background on the question.


#15

Hmm, I was thinking primarily in terms of pre-purchase. For a lot of my peers (ranging from 18-26), they’ve heard of System Shock, usually SS2, but never picked it up and are scared off by the graphics. They’re perfectly willing to skip SS1 and 2 because they’ve read all about the influence those games have had elsewhere, or seen that influence in other games they already enjoy and can appreciate the influence THROUGH that lens.

That being said, we don’t want SS3 to be limited to only players who have played through the first two Shocks, so we don’t want to market TOO heavily on legacy. Once you’re ingame, I would expect the game narrative and mechanics are contained enough that you wouldn’t NEED to have played the previous games, but you may miss a few Easter Eggs or hidden meanings if you weren’t aware of them. So it really comes down to “how do we market a game to a new audience without making it purely a nostalgia grab” and without making a direct comparison to games that have been developed by a far larger team? (We don’t talk about our team size too often, but it really is amazing how much is done with our team size now, versus some of our peers with at least 100 people designated to one game! It makes a world of a difference for content, and of course, timeline…)


#16

The biggest lesson I took away from Prey is don’t anger an established fanbase. There were like 200 people in the world who loved Prey (2006) and Bethesda alienated every one of them to extreme I’ve never seen before. These people were out there spreading FUD at every chance, every comment thread, youtube video, new story, or piece of social media. They managed to steer every conversation about the game into negative territory. Any time it felt like hype was building, they would smack it down. It was really something to behold.

Whatever other marketing problems the game had (and there definitely were some) the early negative response from some of the gaming community really held it back from building a grassroots following pre-release.


#17

You can bet some of those “fans” were Human Head themselves. It would have been justice in their eyes. Understandable if the behind the scenes stories of Human Head’s demise are true.


#18

This makes sense.

I do wonder, though, if the main issue to overcome with persuading newcomers to try a new game will be not intimidation, but trust. As in, “Can I trust that this game will be fun for me?” and “Can I trust this team to deliver on making this game well?”

I think a lot of that second question will depend on the gamer and critic reaction to Underworld Ascendant. Good reviews for UA will help sell SS3 to new players.

But how do you get them to trust that the kind of game SS3 is will be fun for them? That’s worth more thought.

One other thing: on the subject of using SS/SS2 to sell SS3, I think it’s not impossible to use visuals as long as you’re willing to point people to screenshots/videos that have modded SS2’s graphics. (Let’s not talk about SS’s graphics. :smiley: )

For example, here’s one I just grabbed. It’s a bit sparse (because most of the game areas are sparse), but I wouldn’t say it’s any more embarrassing visually than the original Half-Life is today.


#19

I’ll be the guy who says he absolutely loved Prey from start to about 9/10ths of the way through then… I’d even put it in my top 5 favourite gaming experiences (which include SS2 and Deus Ex when I played them on release).

I agree that rather than looking at things to avoid, best to look at elements to incorporate first and foremost. That’s actually one of the things I thought Prey did really well with other “immersive sims” (hate that term tbh).

Contrary to what others are saying I loved the art style and the atmosphere it helped generate. Obviously it’s not Shock-esque, but I’m not worried that the art style for Shock 3 will be anything other than great anyway! :slight_smile:

The metroidvania style is something that appeals to me a lot, so I’d be hoping it’s a big factor in SS3. Prey implemented this really well IMO. Even though the enemy variety and behaviour is limited in Prey, you always felt that there were multiple angles and routes from which to attack a problem (maybe the only exception being getting the main lift back online, which requires fighting). Meant you can do runs where you just charge past everything and see how long you can survive… It’s surprisingly fun.

Would agree with people saying enemy diversity is important, with scaling difficulty. By the end game in Prey the only real annoyance is the hundreds of supercharged operators, which felt a little cheap I suppose. Even the nightmare can just be dismissed with a radio signal, or avoided with a load screen.

My main hope for SS3 is that the environment is a compelling one, because I think that’s what I loved the most about Prey. The real star of the show is the space ship IMO. If they can combine an exciting location with a sense of purpose, that’s half the battle won for me! :slight_smile:

On the whole “niche” nature of immersive sims these days… I agree it’s sad but that’s just the reality we have to deal with. What will kill Shock 3 for me is an attempt to play to too broad an audience (make it too run and gun, water down the subject matter or whatever) and lose the magic somewhat. I recognise that in the age of sales being king, Prey and Dishonored etc lack of commercial success weren’t particularly great news from that POV…

Didn’t help that people read IGN who gave it a 4 or something on release, just because the reviewer experienced a bug that most other people seemed not to. I’m certain that would have put people off. Maybe a lesson there is to playtest thoroughly! :stuck_out_tongue: